Seeking to generate a little summer heat, BBC America will air a half-dozen two-part thrillers through the Fourth of July under the “Crimes of Passion” banner, but the somewhat uninspired inaugural entry doesn’t measure up with the best of British drama. David Tennant is appropriately creepy as a ladies’ man who wraps himself in and around a young woman’s life, yet despite the first-rate cast, this adaptation of Nicci French’s novel leans too heavily on the “psychological” while proving short on thrills.
Recently seen in “Viva, Blackpool” and “Dr. Who,” Tennant is perfectly squirrelly as Brendan, who meets and beds architect Miranda (Kate Ashfield) after their chance encounter at a mutual friend’s party.
When the relationship flames brightly and then quickly goes south, however, Miranda is surprised to see Brendan back in her life — this time romancing her sister, Kerry (Claire Goose), to whom he almost immediately proposes.
In traditional Hitchcockian fashion, Miranda suspects Brendan is a psycho, having wooed Kerry strictly to retaliate against her. Unfortunately, her misgivings about his bizarre and potentially dangerous behavior fall on deaf ears, as Brendan deftly manages to keep twisting her efforts, couching her warnings as emblematic of Miranda’s jealousy and hostility toward him.
Alas, this formula grows rather tedious as relatives, friends and eventually the police continue to rebuff Miranda, leading to a series of modest surprises — the best of which also turns out to be the most predictable.
Ashfield is a sympathetic lead, and Tennant — with his darting, deep-set eyes — certainly plays unctuous with the best of them. Yet even with some nice trappings (including Edmund Butt’s atmospheric score), the pace plods along too slowly, perhaps because we’re privy to Brendan’s menace so early on without much action to show for it.
Admittedly, the Brits excel at this kind of understated drama, but there’s a fine line between restraint and a good nap. “Secret Smile” isn’t bad, certainly, but if this is the best BBC’s summer thriller filler can offer, even the channel’s most loyal viewers won’t miss much if it stays secret.